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Iron Dude

20 Aug

When a colleague tells you he just completed an Ironman and still finds time to volunteer, you know you need to get the details

Jason Everitt, a Service Officer here at Catchafire, appeared at work last Monday looking a little worse for wear. I wondered if he might have tied one on the night before. But it turned out the reasons were more interesting than an ill advised Sunday night bender. He had just completed New York’s Inaugural Ironman U.S. Championship, swimming 2.4 miles in the Hudson River, biking 112 miles and then topping it off with a full marathon (26.2 miles) for good measure. All while the rest of us were eating Ben and Jerry’s and watching the Olympics. Jason moved here from San Diego so maybe that partially accounts for his vim and vigor, but perhaps equally impressive, and frankly a little intimidating, was the rumor that in addition to his full time work bringing nonprofits into the Catchafire community, he also takes on Pro Bono Projects on the side! Here’s what he has to say for himself:

An Ironman! Why on earth would you do such a thing?
Until last year, I never thought about doing a triathlon. I was (am?) a terrible swimmer. My only experience on a bike was riding my beach cruiser to class and I hadn’t run more than three miles since graduate school. I registered for a sprint triathlon just to force myself to get healthy again. I trained hard and accomplished something I had never dreamed possible. I’ve been playing athletic chicken with myself ever since, signing up for bigger and bigger races and pushing my limits.

As a relatively recent New Yorker, did you learn anything about the city during your training?  
I probably learned less about geography than I did about what it means to be a New Yorker. I was surprised at how quickly I felt like a part of New York’s incredibly warm and welcoming athletic community. We struggled up Harlem Hill together, exchanging words of encouragement, strangers offered to help me fix flat tires. New Yorkers are a lot different than the way they’re portrayed in the popular imagination.

You mentioned you had some “dark moments” during the race. Other than immersing yourself in the Hudson River, which must have accounted for at least one, what did you mean by that?
Your body just can’t keep it together over fifteen hours of racing. Eventually, it’s going to fail you. At around mile 17 of the marathon we had to climb the stairs that lead up to the George Washington Bridge. It was the last big push before the sweet, sweet downhills and straightaways in Manhattan and I knew my wife, Carly, was waiting to cheer me on just on the other side. But I had been cramping up pretty bad for the last hour and my foot was bleeding. On the very first stair, my legs completely seized up. I couldn’t lift them, couldn’t walk, couldn’t do anything but prop myself up against a handrail. Fear and self doubt had been with me off and on all day, but then pain showed up and suggested they form a super group to bring me down. In the end it wasn’t my body that got me to pull myself up those 70 stairs, it was my mind and my heart. I learned a lot about myself on those stairs.

That’s very cool, Jason. I hear you’re also working on a Pro Bono Project when you’re not at work or training?
I’m working on a Public Relations Plan with an amazing non-profit called Bottomless Closet. It’s the only New York-based organization helping women get back into the workforce by providing interview preparation, business attire, professional development and financial skills. Their mission really speaks to me because it’s so simple. It’s about helping these women with concrete tools to achieve the professional and economic success that we all want and deserve. But, not unlike many other non-profit organizations, Bottomless Closet is so busy doing great work they don’t have time to get their story to the media. I am helping them build a plan that will help them strategically communicate with the press, while staying clear about the staff and time limitations of the organization.

How do you fit it all in?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say religious time management and a very patient wife. Also, Catchafire encourages us to take “service days” which is paid time off for staff to take on meaningful volunteer projects. It’s very much a part of the culture here at Catchafire — to invest in service as a transformative experience. So that helps too.

Advice for prospective Ironman athletes and potential Pro Bono Professionals?
Set lofty goals. Attack them with gusto. You’ll be rewarded for it in the end.

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Be Inspired. Be Committed. Give Pro-Bono.

16 Apr

This National Volunteer week Catchafire would like to celebrate all of the professionals who serve their communities pro bono. For many of them, volunteering time, skills, passion, and talent is more than a choice. It’s a lifestyle.

Join us in celebration and tell the Catchafire community who inspires you through their pro bono service.

On our homepage at Catchafire.org, our team will share a few words and an image recognizing a professional who inspires us with their pro bono service. These are individuals who rock their skills and talents to boost the capacity of communities in need.

Here’s 2 Ways You Can Get Involved:

1. Take a minute to give a shout-out to a friend, lover, family member, neighbor, colleague or peer who dedicates time to give back pro bono:

Step 1: Submit your nominee at www.catchafire.org/nominate.

Step 2: Share a photo (instead of a thousand words!)

Photos should capture a cause, celebrate a community commitment, recognize a person’s fun spirit, or all of the above. Your submission and photo will be included on the Catchafire pro bono Wall of Fame so your personal inspiration can bask in the glory of their fellow rock star pro bono professional peers.

  • If you use Instagram, tag #catchafire to a photo that represents your nominee and write their name next to it.

2. Spread the word:

Help pro bono service go viral.  Post tweets and facebook updates that reflect your commitment to make every week a National Volunteer week.  We have crafted a few to start you off.  Copy and past the following to join the digital celebration.

Sample Tweets:

  • It’s #VolunteerWeek. Join @Catchafire. Nominate a person who inspires you with their pro bono service: http://bit.ly/HEcdEE
  • It’s #VolunteerWeek. Be Inspired. Nominate a person who inspires you with their pro bono service: http://bit.ly/HEcdEE
  • For #volunteerweek, join @catchafire, nominate a person who inspires you with their pro bono service: http://bit.ly/HEcdEE
  • Want to give back? Move it from your to-do list to your to-done list for #volunteerweek! Sign up. give back pro bono: http://bit.ly/HPkUcu
  • Who inspires you through their community service? Join @Catchafire and celebrate them for #volunteerweek. Shout out their commitment at http://bit.ly/HEcdEE
  • We’ve shared stories of professionals who give back pro bono. Who inspires you? Join @Catchafire and recognize them for #volunteerweek http://bit.ly/HEcdEE

Sample Facebook Posts:

  • It’s Volunteer Week! Be Inspired. Give Your Talents Pro Bono! Join Catchafire and nominate a person who inspires you with their pro bono service! http://bit.ly/HEcdEE
  • It’s not just funds that social good organizations. They need talent that will help them grow their capacity and impact. Be Inspired. Join Catchafire and nominate a person who inspires you with their pro bono service! http://bit.ly/HEcdEE

The time is always right to do what is right

19 Jan

In 2009, President Obama made a plainspoken call to action in his inaugural address by appealing to the nation to take responsibility:

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

When we consider the many social and environmental challenges facing humanity, we arguably have no choice but to accept Obama’s “era of responsibility.” But we’re not just entering an era of responsibility, rather we’re entering is an era of shared responsibility.

In the digital age, where news stories reach every corner of the globe instantaneously, it’s difficult for someone to claim ignorance. We’re all aware of drought and starvation in Africa, deadly riots in Syria, debt problems in Greece, and the growing hole in the ozone. We’re all stakeholders in the future of the planet, we’re all responsible, and as Obama suggests, we should all gladly seize the opportunity to do our part. We cannot rely on government or business to address these problems for us, and gone are the days of checkbook philanthropy. We’ve shared the spoils, now we must roll up our sleeves and share responsibility.

This past MLK Day, Catchafire took part in the 9th Annual MLK Serve-A-Thon organized by the NYC Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH). The Catchafire team was posted at the Caldwell Temple Soup Kitchen in the South Bronx and spent the day re-organizing their kitchen and inventory. It was an enjoyable day and we’re pleased to report that we left the kitchen and storerooms in a much tidier state then we found them!

MLK Day is often referred to as a “day on, not a day off.” Since Catchafire’s vision is to create a world where it is commonplace to serve the greater good, it was natural for us to spend the day giving back as a team. For the team at Catchafire, everyday is a day “on.”

For MLK Day, President Obama and his family participated in a community service project at the Brown Education Campus in Northeast Washington. Here he’s seen painting a MLK Jr. quote above a classroom door. The quote couldn’t be more fitting: “The time is always right to do what is right.

Don’t wait for the next MLK Day to share responsibility. Sign up here to lend your professional skills to a good cause. Sign up before the end of January and you can also nominate your favorite organization to win $2,012 off the cost of Catchafire membership.

My Catchafire Internship Wrapped Up

22 Dec

Time flies when you’re having fun, right?  That must be true because my internship at Catchafire is rapidly approaching its end this week.  It has gone so quickly, but has been filled with many beneficial experiences.  As I wrap up the work on the Catchafire Service Station and my last few blog posts, I have a bit of time left to reflect and think about the valuable skills and knowledge I’ve gained during my time here.

During my time at Ohio University, I’ve learned the background basics and communication skills for my future career.  However, nothing can quite prepare you like first-hand in-the-office experience.  As I worked at Catchafire for the last month, I learned a lot from everyone around me.  I saw Rachael’s busy strategic planning for the financial future of the organization while also making sure everything was running smoothly as she brainstormed how to make Catchafire even better.  I noticed all the detailed over-my-head planning that Matt put into running the website.  I witnessed Jane’s excitement as she matched our volunteers with our organizations by implementing the match.com like style that keeps the system going.  I was even moved into the nonprofit outreach room of the office eventually to listen and learn how Sam and Emily gave consultations to the nonprofits who were interested in joining Catchafire’s network.  I met and learned from the unique backgrounds of the two newest team members Ruti and Jie.  I also found out more details of what goes into blogging and Public Relations thanks to our communications team, Justin and Katie.

All of my colleagues have been very inspiring to me.  They are all still young and have had so many exciting volunteer experiences from traveling abroad to busily helping with the Obama campaign within the United States.  It makes me realize how much I want to accomplish, and makes completing my undergraduate degree in March much more of a beginning than an ending.  The entire Catchafire team made my internship a valuable one as they gave me the independence to work and take on tasks that would help me.  They also trusted me with the responsibility of their up-and-coming service station, blog, and social media outlets like they would an actual employee.

I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone on the Catchafire team along with the great organizations I have been connected with through them.  Now that I have a better idea of what my career may look like, I am excited to come back into the professional world after I finish up my last quarter of college.  I feel more confident and ready for what is ahead of me thanks to the help of Catchafire and their team.

My Catchafire Project: Introducing The Service Station

15 Dec

Moving into my third week here at Catchafire, my project is now well underway.  I have really enjoyed being a part of the office environment.  I’m focused on my own responsibilities and I also get  to take in everything going on around me.  It’s interesting to see the logistics and behind-the-scenes-work that keeps this organization running and growing.

My main project here at Catchafire is to create a “Service Station” which will act as a resource center for Catchafire’s nonprofits, social enterprises, and volunteers.  I have been researching ways to provide resources for all members of the Catchafire community to help them as they work together.  It’s important for us to provide our volunteers with tools to  prepare them  to make the most of their valuable contributions to our organizations.  This Service Station will provide resources and tips to guide our professionals through their pro bono projects. The Service Station will also provide valuable information for our nonprofits and social enterprises, to help with their Catchafire projects, and to direct them to other helpful resources and support.

In between writing, blogs, attending meetings, and managing Catchafire’s social media, I  have spent the last few weeks researching these valuable resources.  I’ve enjoyed exploring a lot of the sites out there, and I’m learning a lot about different organizations and tools available for those looking to “do good.”  I feel more prepared to enter the nonprofit sector for a career with every new idea that I come across.  As I finish compiling my research, I will begin to sort it into categories in order of delivering this information as clearly as possible to the organizations and volunteers who need it.  We’ll also be offering tips and tools that will be broken down into all the professional services provided on the Catchafire Project Menu.

So, tell us, what would you like to see in the Catchafire Service Station? Please provide your ideas and feedback on this project so we can be sure to include it in the resource center.  I  invite any suggestions, advice, or knowledge that has worked for another organization or volunteer who would like to pass  this information on to others!  We are all in this together, so it’s important to continue learning so that helping a cause can be even more efficient and fun!

My Catchafire Endeavors: Working to Build My Future in Helping Others

3 Dec

MaryBeth Bognar

 

Starting at Catchafire I’m eager to apply the skills I’ve gained over the last several years while expanding my experience as I enter into the professional world.  Coming from the small town of Mantua, Ohio, I made my first big step towards change by entering into my undergraduate journey at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. I quickly discovered my passion for helping others, and couldn’t ignore the pull towards a career path doing just that, so I began to build the skills I would need to succeed.  I became very active on campus with organizations like Invisible Children, UNICEF: Student Initiative, Amnesty International, and Interfaith Youth Core. I even became a delegate to push faculty at the university to make our campus conflict-free by pledging to not purchase electronics that contain conflict minerals which fund the deadly war in the DR Congo. Through my leadership roles with each group, I gained many skills, a great deal of knowledge, and the confidence to pursue a career with similar organizations. However, with graduation quickly approaching, I knew I needed to see my skills in use in an actual professional setting.  I was ready for that next step, to push my passion further.

When talking to the staff of Catchafire during my interviews, I knew this would be a beneficial fit.  I was very excited to work with a unique organization bringing a great, fresh idea into the nonprofit and social enterprise world.  In a few of my classes at Ohio University we had talked about the problem with the surplus of nonprofit organizations that exist today.  Many people want to do good, yet so many duplicate efforts, making them less helpful than they would like to be.  While trying to change the world, organizations need to keep in mind a number of other logistics that can be difficult.  Catchafire helps organizations do this, by providing volunteers with valuable skills.  Organizations save money and time, allowing for a greater emphasis on their cause and programs—which is really what their focus should be.

Not only do I strongly support Catchafire’s cause, I also get the chance to experience the system first hand.  Even though I am here on a short internship, I’m actually a lot like a Catchafire volunteer giving my professional skills to the organization to help them with a project.  Since I am only here for one month, the project is short-term, which is a Catchafire project’s first defining characteristic.  The project also meets Catchafire’s second criteria, which is to be discrete.  When I started on the first day, I was given a direct plan of what I’d be doing and how I should approach my tasks.  I have room for my own creativity, but it is clear what the project is, and what I should be working on each day while here.  Finally, like all Catchafire projects, I’ll be working on this as an individual.  I am able to manage my project, exercising my own judgment and improving my leadership skills through the process.

While I am providing positive work for Catchafire, I also get something in return.  I am gaining the confidence and skills to enter into the professional world this March in a career  working for an international human rights organization. It is great to learn about each of my co-worker’s backgrounds, I’m adding valuable experience to my resume, and I’m building relationships in a field I can’t wait to be a part of soon.  Be sure to look for more details about  my Catchafire project (and more about the team members here as I get to know them) in my next posts!

What’s the deal with working for a start-up?

18 Nov

People often ask me, ‘so what exactly do you do for Catchafire?’

Short answer: Marketing and Communications Lead. This is my title.

I joined Catchafire in July this year as ‘Marketing and Communications Lead.’ I came to establish and execute marketing initiatives.  Coming from a retail banking background where large marketing departments (containing multiple functions such as brand, acquisition and retention) are crucial to sales, I was certain that marketing is what Catchafire needed to grow.

I got to work building a marketing strategy consisting of Google paid search, Facebook advertising, social media outreach and experiential campaigns.  I dove right in thinking that I had a good enough understanding of the business and our volunteers to build an effective marketing campaign.

However, a few months later, a few thousand dollars less, and very few results, I knew that paid search and Facebook advertising just weren’t working.  This was very surprising to me because these channels are generally known to be very cost-effective, yielding strong results.  But we just weren’t ready for paid marketing. We needed to build a brand and a community of followers first. So my role shifted to community building, with more focus on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  In a few months we grew our twitter follower base from just 2,000 to 5,500 followers.  These followers were engaging in conversation with us, retweeting our tweets and spreading our mission.  They were signing up as volunteers and nonprofits were as well. We now had a Catchafire community and a much larger volunteer base.

We also realized that we needed to know our customers better. We needed to understand our customer’s experiences with our technology so that we could optimize and provide a more efficient and effective service.  And so my role shifted again. I became responsible for volunteer engagement.

The truth is that  working for a start-up is nothing like working for an established company. In Corporate America (or Australia), you have  role and that role is by and large pretty set. You know what you’re there to do and and you have clear deliverables.  In a start-up environment, what you know is that you don’t know.  You have to be flexible and be willing to ride the roller coaster heading for the unknown.  You have to be prepared that your role will change as often as week-to-week, as you and your colleagues learn more about the business’s needs.  Whilst this all sounds unpredictable and uncertain, trust me, working for a start-up is the best experience you’ll ever get.

So what do I do for Catchafire? A whole lot of a bit of everything!

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